By Seemal Saif, Regional Municipality of York
Kendra FitzRandolph is not your typical city builder (in the making). Her diverse educational background and career has given her the ability to view development from a unique lens, breaking the traditional silos and integrating the various elements of placemaking into a comprehensive vision.
While Kendra is a planner, she did not craft or plan her entry into the field in a conventional sense. “I just fell into planning,” she candidly admits. Her first role as a summer intern at Scott Burns Consulting and, later, her years spent at Urban Strategies, solidified her interest in the field. At Urban Strategies, she was in a position where she was able to work with all the partners and truly grasp the scope and breadth that the field had to offer. Since then, she has been hooked by her career in planning.
Kendra completed her undergraduate degree in Planning at McGill University and went on to complete her Master’s at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Although she feels that she has fulfilled her “higher education quota for a lifetime,” she is still a big believer in continuous education and her target is to undertake some type of higher learning course at least once a year — be it in real estate investment, sailing, knitting or wine. This summer she is enrolled in two courses.
“The more I learn about development at work, the more I learn how much I don’t know!” she says.
After graduating, Kendra immediately began volunteering with ULI Toronto. Meanwhile her full-time role was at the City of Toronto through a connection that she credits ULI Toronto with helping her build. “I was determined to come home so I started to meet people affiliated with ULI and ask for coffees to learn more about the industry in Toronto,” she says. “I was connected to Harold Madi who was then the Director of Urban Design at the City and he convinced me that the City of Toronto was a great place to start my career.”
Her advice for Millennials is not to get pressured into taking the first job that is offered to them but to instead shoot for what they really want. She knows that it may take longer to reach one’s goal but, with enough commitment and consistency, nothing is impossible. That is certainly true for Kendra’s own career. Like many other students, she admits that she had a very hard time pinning down what to focus on in school as she was working throughout her academic career. But it was at Cornell University where she had the freedom to dabble in a blend of architecture, planning and real estate while also studying abroad in all three areas that she figured out her true calling. “I understand the social and economic value in integrating placemaking programs within the practice of hard development and planning. And now that I am in the real world, this is an area of development I hope to continue to study and strengthen alongside hard real estate development,” says Kendra.
Kendra is currently working at Hullmark Developments Ltd, where each day offers unique challenges and opportunities and no day feels monotonous. She could be starting her day at City Hall one morning or on a construction site the next. She could be setting up meetings with the Business Improvement Area (BIA), prepping for a community engagement session, seeking Site Plan Approval (SPA), or be on the phone with a construction manager. “It really is a whirlwind and I love it,” she says. She typically ends her day either with an industry social event (ULI or others) or a conference. She credits the creative, energetic and entrepreneurial environment at Hullmark Developments for making it possible for her to balance her work and industry commitments. Kendra also says that, as of late, she is learning the art of “shutting down” and saying no so as to ensure “friends, family and health remain a priority.”
Having worked in both the public and private sector, it’s interesting to ask Kendra what, in her view, is the difference between the two sectors. “They really are night and day,” she says. She believes that everyone in city building should work in the public sector at some point to understand the procedures and the bigger picture. Her time at Toronto City Hall allowed her to develop a great deal of respect for the hardworking public servants in the municipal government. She also feels that one of the biggest challenges facing the real estate and development industry is the lack of an open and trusting relationship between the public and private sectors. Given her experience working in City Hall she feels that she can bridge this gap and open dialogue between both parties by eliminating the “feat of communications” that currently exists. “We need to learn that we are both after the same goal — to make Toronto an even stronger world class city. But we have to learn to work together,” Kendra says.
In her spare time, volunteering on the NXT City Prize has been one of the most exciting projects for her. Kendra connected with Mackenzie Keast, the NXT City founder, over coffee due to a shared interest in the area of flooding and urban design. That meeting resulted in her joining the NXT City board. She feels that the organization has the ability to really impact how we look at public spaces and community development in downtown Toronto. “I loved being a part of that,” Kendra says, noting that she found the energy and creativity of that group very contagious.
She also has a number of book recommendations that have helped her in both her personal and professional life. “I wouldn’t be a good planner if I didn’t say that one should read anything by Jane Jacobs, but other books I love are The Real Estate Game: The Intelligent Guide To Decision Making And Investment by William Poorvu, Walking Home: The Life and Lessons of a City Builder by Ken Greenberg and In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje,” she says.
Kendra has found ULI to be invaluable to her growth in the industry. She has made close friends and has developed a network of individuals with whom she feels completely comfortable in reaching out to for advice. “I know I will be very much a ULI-lifer,” she says. At ULI, Kendra began volunteering with the Communications Committee and was a part of the team that created some of ULI’s most popular campaigns, such as the #CityResolve campaign with Jennifer Keesmaat. Presently, she is a member of the ULI Social Media Committee and also sits on the ULI Connect Committee. She is not afraid to dream big and jokingly says that “hopefully, one day I’ll be a chair.” We hope so too.
Kendra embodies the vibrancy and excitement that’s coming Toronto’s way and, with more emerging city builders like Kendra, one can’t help but be more certain of the city’s exhilarating future.